Canton to bid farewell to long-time town anchor
Canton Town Manager Al Matthews has announced his impending retirement, and while his last day won’t be for months yet, he’s already plotting ways to spend his new-found free time after a long career in town government.
Matthews, who has served as Canton’s town manager for four years and assistant town manager for nearly a decade prior to that, told the board of aldermen about a month ago that he would stay on until December 2013 at the latest.
Matthews said it’s “time to enjoy things” like going to the lake or simply spending time with his family.
“A lot of my peers have either retired or are in the process of doing so,” he added, citing the retirement of Lee Galloway, Waynesville’s former town manager, last year.
Although he has enjoyed his time as town manager, Matthews said retiring has its own rewards.
“Well, sure. I will miss a tremendous amount, but you are also gaining other things like peace and quiet,” Matthews said. “There is not the constant ‘I need. I want.’”
Matthews has worked as a town employee for more than 30 years, as the Canton town clerk, assistant town manager and finally town manager. In between his time in Canton, he spent 22 years as the town manager in Maggie Valley. In 2000, he became Canton’s assistant town manager.
One of Matthews’ notable accomplishments as Canton’s town manager was successfully navigating the switch from curbside trash pick-up by town workers to a private contractor. The move was a reaction to changes at the county level in how trash must be hauled to the landfill.
“It went very smoothly,” said Mayor Mike Ray of the transition to a private trash hauler.
Ray also noted Matthews’ recent work on the Champion Drive sewer line project. Canton upgraded the capacity of its sewer line around the I-40 interchange at exit 31 and along Champion Drive. The sewer line was maxed out and could not serve any new development in that area, despite being a prime location for new businesses to locate.
“It opens the door for a tremendous amount of growth and development especially along that corridor,” Matthews said.
Town leaders lauded Matthews, saying Canton continued to grow during his tenure.
“He’s been a great town manager, and he followed in Bill Stamey’s footsteps, and those shoes were hard to fill,” Alderman Ed Underwood said. “I know (replacing Matthews is) going to be a challenging thing to do.”
Matthews’ retirement announcement did not come as a big shock to town leaders, who had heard him make mention of the idea before.
“He is approaching retirement, and he is looking forward to it, and I don’t blame him,” said Alderman Ken Holland, who is retired himself. “He’s done the right thing on that. He has given us a good degree of advanced notice.”
When it does come time for his final day, Matthews said his exit will be quiet.
“I’ll just fade on out. I’ll just fade out into the sunset,” he said laughing.
Canton launches town manager search
Canton is on the prowl for a new town manager. The town will accept applications until April 1.
Once all the applications are collected, the mayor and board of aldermen will review them and select top picks for consideration. The board planned to talk about exact details of the search at its meeting on Tuesday (Jan. 8).
“We are going to be looking at somebody who hopefully, you know, has experience,” said Alderman Ed Underwood. “We are going to be doing a lot of searching, a lot of interviewing.”
Underwood said he expects to receive a good amount applicants vying for the position.
“I think we’ve got a good town to begin with. It’s a growing town. We’ve got outstanding town employees. We’ve got a really good fund balance,” Underwood said. “This is Western North Carolina. What more could you ask for?”
Fellow Alderman Ken Holland said he would welcome any input from Canton residents on what qualities they want in the town’s next manager and encouraged people to tell any good candidates they know to apply.
There is currently no deadline for when the board expects to name its new town manager.
“We are not going to be in a hurry. We are going to take our time,” Underwood said.
Once someone is hired, however, Matthews has agreed to work with his replacement for a couple of months, teaching them the ins and outs of Canton government.
“It just shows that Al (Matthews) is still very much dedicated to the town of Canton,” Holland said. His continued presence will make for a “smooth and easy-to-handle transition.”